Last week's trip to Marin County, California, made us feisty for fresh olive oil, good avocados, young arugula and ocean seafood. We savored hot and cold sliced fennel and scolded ourselves for never thinking to top salads at home with pistachios.
We didn't get to Chez Panisse across the bay or the French Laundry up in Yountville. We left our hearts in Marin locavore land. (Maybe we went loco-loca; we didn't even cross the Golden Gate bridge.)
Regional highlights included vegetarian couscous lunch at rustic, handsome Insalata's in San Anselmo and California-grown olive oil pressed on site at Frantoio Ristorante in Mill Valley. There were Cowgirl Creamery cheese moments.
But the K.O. experience between San Francisco and the Wine Country was cocina criolla at Sol Food in San Rafael. I ordered take-out from the tiny Puerto Rican eatery so I could satisfy my curiosity and then move on.....What a fool, what a fool. A visit to Sol Food's nearby bigger space happened soon after. With more time, third and fourth visits would have followed.
Plantains--platanos--are napkin weights at Sol Food. When cooked, they anchor a meal like russet potatoes do in the Midwest or polenta in parts of Italy. I learned that vegan mofongo--fried green plantains mashed with olive oil and garlic--was my fave, but I also loved pancake-shaped tostones, and sweet, delicate maduros. (Are you still with me? This can be a lot of exotic terminology if you haven't had exposure to it.....Novice that I am, I came home and researched on Google for...it must have been...hours.)
A special using platanos was pastelon de carne--sweet plantain and beef "lasagna" with jack cheese and roasted red peppers. But on my maiden expedition I had three types of plantain sides (described above) with pollo--chicken thighs that had been deboned and skinned, then marinated in oregano and garlic and baked. Delicioso. There was house-made pique, a bright orange hot sauce that took the pollo up another notch.
For dessert I skipped classic flan in order to try tembleque--coconut pudding with mango sauce--and did not regret it.
Aside from its culinary appeal, Sol Food features piped-in authentic music and hip, tropic-inspired decor, both of which dazzle and delight.
Sol Food, 732 Fourth Street and 901 Lincoln Avenue, San Rafael, California
Closer to home
What, you don't want to travel thousands of miles to try authentic Puerto Rican dishes? Puerta Azul in St. Paul closed a while back so it looks like Chicago is the next stop, with about a half-dozen spots to choose from. Let me know if you find anything closer that's worth passing on to readers.